Thursday, November 10, 2016

Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2016
Images from the Internet

A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Adapted (from William Shakespeare), directed and edited by Richard Griffin
Scorpio Films Releasing
104 minutes / 2017

If you are yet unfamiliar with Rhode Island indie director Richard Griffin, well, you have some homework ahead of you. A critic’s darling and a fan’s friend, he has dipped his director’s stylus into various genres, mostly stuff that Hitchcock might approve (e.g., 2013’s Normal or 2011’s Exhumed). Sure many of his titles can fall into the horror genre (or meta-horror subgenre), but by crossing the streams of the likes of Hammer, Italian giallo, revenge, Christian scare films and even a redneck creature feature, but he has declared he is a director that is not tied to any single idea or style. Griffin got his start with Shakespeare with Titus Andronicus back in 2000, so this play seems like a good place to bring it back home.

Of all Shakespeare’s plays, this one is the goofiest. That’s saying a lot, actually, considering he has cross-dressers, mix-ups and general mayhem in his comedies. Just look at some of the names of characters here: Peaseblossom, Snout, Nick Bottom, Francis Flute, Mustardseed (you just know that has Biblical reference), and of course, Puck.

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There have also been many, many adaptations of the story over the years, including one with a young Mickey Rooney as a manic and bare-chested Puck. As with nearly all Shakespeare’s works, the language is poetic from another era, so yes, it’s hard to keep it sounding conversational, but like the more serious Hamlet (whose presence is also felt here) this story of a play within the play is told nearly as a whim, a story to tell before going to bed, a dream on a midsummer night (didja see what I did there?).

But this is Richard Griffin, whose films are gloriously known for their style of gender-bending, and sexual orientation being a mere thing to be trifled with within the story. And over the years, Griffin has proven that he is fearless in this way. Also, as many have before him, he has taken the story out of the original play’s time period of Ancient Greece, and placed it in 1754, in the fictional town of Athens, in the British Colony of Massachusetts.

The text is abridged a bit, but loyal. That stated, I will make some commentary about the text as well as the film as we go along our merry way. For example, the elder Egeus (Bruce Church) is angered that his daughter, Hermina (Ashley Harmon) has fallen in love with someone that he has not chosen. Rather than singing “Tradition,” like Tevye, and bending with the times, instead he asks the ruler, Theseus (the noble Steve O’Broin) for permission to either kill or disfigure her if she disobeys. Yikes. Did you know Shakespeare dealt in Honor Killings?

Anna Rizzo (not from this film)
Griffin also subtly plays up the lines that meant one thing when it was written, and then uses modern terminology to imply other things. For example, the King of the Fairies (get it), Oberon, is supposedly in love with Hippolyta (Lee Rush), the person about to marry Theseus, but he is surrounded by pretty boys, as his bride, the highly corseted Titania (Anna Rizzo), states that he has been, “Playing on pipes of corn and versing love / To amorous Philida.” And when vexed-yet-comic Helena (Elizabeth Loranth) is distraught with Hermina, thinking she’s being Gaslighted, remind her of years before when they “…Have with our needles created both one flower, / Both on one sampler, sitting on one cushion, / Both warbling of one song, both in one key.”

This is definitely one of the more often filmed comedies of Shakespeare (at least four in 2016 alone), and it’s arguably the most filled with sexual tension, naughty bits, and innuendos (for example, a guy named Bottom who is an ass, turns into, well, an ass; great donkey head created by Jason Harrison, by the way). But Griffin being Griffin, he takes something that’s been done before, and manages to add some new sparkle to the whole thing. A lot of this is the cross-gender moments, some of which I mentioned above.

The play within the play
But mostly it’s a lighthearted play, despite the anger, the wrestling, the threats of physical harm to women, and sexual animosity between some of the key characters that appear sporadically. This is also reflected in this production via an obvious-stage setting for much of it, the primary-colored lighting supplied by Jill Poisson, and the hand-held cameras, which is thankfully never exploited to the point of seasickness for the viewer. This whimsicality (well, hell, there are fairies in these woods) is also expressed via purposeful and humorous anachronisms that show up occasionally, such as the eating of popcorn out of a clear glass bowl (yes, I know they had popcorn back then, the settlers being introduced to it by the indigenous people they were appropriating land from, but here it’s more of its temporal contextual use). There’s also the breaking of the fourth wall as characters speak to the camera/viewer, and in a Jesus Christ Superstar (1973) moment, we see the dressing rooms and even some cell phones; and yet, it does not spoil the moment, but rather enhances it, since it is on some level a meta-play story.

As for the acting, well, considering the clunkiness of speaking Shakespeare’s dialog, the range is from Community Theater to some exceptionally fine work. For example both the fairy leads, Rizzo and especially Platt put in some stellar performances (see clip at the end). Josh Fontaine, as Nick Bottom, plays it a bit broad, but because the character is so full of bravado and ego (maybe he can play Trump next?), he actually metes it out at the right proportion for the role, and his monologue towards the end shows this.

Johnny Sederquist as a Steam-Puck
The character that is the most central and known in the play is, of course, Robin Goodfellow, who is most commonly known as Puck. He is both the glue that holds the story together, and also who rips it apart through misadventure. He’s snarky (such as his famous line, “Lord, what fools these mortals be!”), impetuous and also a bit of a Loki archetype – with charm. I believe that the success or fail of this play is dependent on the interpretation of Puck. Playing him as a steam-punk (including the “circle-A” tee), with just-the-right-touch of glee, is the person I was hoping would do the part, as he is often in Griffin’s releases, is Johnny Sederquist. In the wrong hands Puck can be seen as capricious, manic, or even mean. Johnny just nails it.

The language of Shakespeare intimidates many, tis true, but when you have someone at the helm who loves the work, and is willing to put his own stamp on it without mucking it up (e.g., I once saw Hamlet on Broadway with Ralph Fiennes in the title role, where they did the entire play, speaking quickly throughout due to length of time; it was like watching a 33-1/3 being played in 45). Griffin shows here that even with a meager budget, a dedicated troupe of regulars and newbies to his releases, and some ballsy direction (and some fine editing, I might add), he can make Shakespeare palatable to even the casually educated.

Extra clip:

Saturday, October 15, 2016

FLAMIN’ GROOVIES Gabba Gabba Groovies [1977]

Text by Miriam Linna / FFanzeen, 1977
Introduction © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2016
Images from the Internet, unless indicated

This article was originally published in FFanzeen, issue #3, dated Winter-Spring 1977-78, pages 22 and 23. It was written by Miriam Linna, who at the time was the President of the International Official Flamin’ Groovies Fan Club, and now, well, where do I start? She drums for the A-Bones, has her own solo vocal career, and co-owns/runs the label/record store Norton Records (595 Washington Avenue, Brooklyn, NY). At the time of this writing though, she had recently left the Cramps and was skinning for the Nervus Rex.

The first time I ever heard of the Flamin’ Groovies was in the early ‘70s when a good pal who was a record collector bought their 10” Sneakers EP from 1968 for $15, which blew my mind back then that someone would pay that much for a record. My own record collecting had not taken off as yet. Over the years I’d get know their music, and would especially like their early stuff (“Comin’ After Me” period). That being said, their re-recording of their own “Slow Death” and “Shake Some Action” are still particular favorites (though die-hard purists prefer the originals).

The only time I’ve seen any shade of the band live was when Roy Loney played at Under Acme in New York (a picture I took from that show is below) during the early 2000s, and that same record collector’s band opened for them. It was a fun night. – RBF, 2016

A lotta people have gotta lotta fave groups. Some people say they have one real fave. Lotsa people say The Rolling Stones. Others say The Beatles. Now, some shits say The Sex Pistols. I say The Flamin’ Groovies and I’m ready to tell anybody anywhere any time exactly why because it ain’t no blind love. I don’t like them “just because.” I’ve never seen the band live; I was fifteen when they made their last Midwest pilgrimage and missed them out of lack of wheels, knowledge of when and where, as well as out of basic ignorance. Now I’m older and wiser and truly fanatic about the band. There’s this church on Eighth Street called The Church of St. Cyril and I go there a lot to look at the name. So, you see, this is no casual affair. At one point, I had eight or nine copies of the first three LPs; it’s narrowed to like three of each due to losses to begging acquaintances. I like them because they’re cool looking, sounding, and because they’ve got incredible humour attached to their music – not like outright guffaw ha-ha, but more like something that induces a smile while yer dancing. The band is fucking Good Natured and from their record on, they’ve demonstrated great taste and a desire to make cool good-time danceable rock’n’roll music. Without gimmicks, the Groovies have accomplished themselves as true rock’n’rollers.

I think maybe I am losing touch with reality, mostly because when people accuse the Groovies of being a cult band, I can’t define what then becomes non-cult. Does being a cult band mean that the group is inaccessible to the masses? Okay, I dig it infers that their following is small and fanatic – but to label a band as “cult” must suggest that they are only capable of appealing to a small audience out of esoteric reasons – out of being too outrageous or too arty or too disgusting for the status quo. The definition knocks the Flamin’ Groovies right out of the cult category into which they’ve been pigeonholed.

Their music is totally accessible. There is nothing difficult about it; it’s done very well, it’s danceable, they look cool, Jesus, what does it take? Money. Yeah, it takes a company with cash to push the group, to put them on tour and into magazines and into the hearts of millions. It takes a certain degree of mystification and a few lies. It’s my honest belief that the Groovies could be a major band; that is, in sales, in draw-potential, if they had been taken seriously by a major record label.

Some of these New Wave meatloaves who call The Groovies a “nostalgia band” have no idea about much of anything. They don’t know the definition of “nostalgia” and they haven’t the groggiest what The Flamin’ Groovies are about. These morons hear “Shake Some Action” and label it nostalgia because it’s about romance and being a teenager and all that disgusting stuff.

Roy Loney, Under Acme (pic by RBF)
To quote Alan Betrock [d. 2000 – RBF, 2016], (NY Rocker, vol. 1, No. 5, p 26), “…what Mersey-type album has this much power, punch, proficiency and understanding of the dynamics of rock and roll?” I mean, yeah. Like, you can say it sounds like The Beatles, well, no argument there on any basis, cuz The Sex Pistols sound like Iggy and Iggy sounds like Jim Morrison and… and… so everything sounds like something else, but even when The Groovies do a Beatles song, it’s a Groovies tune right away. The thing about “Shake Some Action” and the previous 45s and EPs recorded at Rockfield Studios is that production weights as heavily in the matter as the content. Dave Edmunds is the man behind the band in creating this sound, this sound that is like a cumulative Spector-effect with the passion of The Groovies themselves and the energy of their past work. It is a magnificent piece of vinyl.

I really cannot understand any attacks of “Anglo” directed at the band either. So their sound of the ‘sixties came out of Liverpool; well, those sounds evolved out of a very American set of influences, and in turn, those English rhythms got rehashed and re-Americanized with bands like The Byrds and the like. Really now, isn’t it time that rock’n’roll got internationalized? Maybe that’s going too far, cuz the major sounds came out of England and out of the U.S., but like maybe Anglo-American would be a fair definer here. What I’m saying is that influences are so cross-referable in the case or rock’n’roll that unless someone is doing Elvis songs… - no, cut that, Arthur Crudup songs, then they can’t really refuse comparisons from either side of the briny blue. I consider The Flamin’ Groovies a very American rock’n’roll band despite the Mersey labels; what all-American kid didn’t have a Beatles haircut in ’65? And if they like cool suits and boots, why force them into Malcolm McLaren duds? Sometimes, I just don’t know anymore. I can’t wait until the next album [Flamin’ Groovies Now, 1978 – RBF, 2016]. The latest scam is that they’re producing it themselves at Rockfield, OK.

There are two bootleg LPs that I know of: Flamin’ Groovies: No Candy, recorded live at The Roxy, Aug. 12, 1976 (ZAP 7893) and The Flamin’ Groovies L.A. 8-12-76 (Cat and Dog Records). Both records were made at the same gig; of the two, the latter is the most listenable. Aside from LP material, the record has a terrific version of “The House of Blue Light” that is enough in itself to make any rock’n’roll fan start dancing. Jesus, I hear this record and itch to see the band live. It must be wonderful. Bo Diddley’s “Lover Not a Fighter” is also on the vinyl, and cool as can be – who does all the talking between the songs? It must be Chris Wilson.

The intros to the songs are real neat. He says thank you a whole lot and it’s just great, unpolitical stuff. Oh yeah! “Please, Please Me” – well, if they’re gonna do a Beatles tune, they’re gonna do one great one, right? Yow, these guitars are great, oh wow. Just great. “Under My Thumb” starts like they’re gonna do a DC5 song, “Bits and Pieces” maybe – ya know those military drums, oh, it’s cool. “Hey Hey Hey” finishes the album; it’s great.

Thank God for The Flamin’ Groovies. These live albums contain a lot of non-originals, but like any one with half a brain can see that these songs are done as tributes – sure, The Groovies could do several hours of originals; the fact that they’re doing the old stuff is truly wonderful, because these guys aren’t about to forget (or let you forget) the crazed stuff that came before and that’s still alive and incredible today. It’s like proof that the cool sounds that started years ago are still capable of knocking ya dead today. The Flamin’ Groovies aren’t afraid to name their influences. They’re far too far into rock and roll to start ripping off licks and claiming that “there’s no Elvis, Beatles, or Stones in 1977.” They aren’t doing punk rock or glitter rock or psychedelic rock or country rock – they’re doing something known and rock and roll, and if you’ve forgotten the definition, go refresh yer memory with a listen to “Blues for Phyllis” or “Yesterday’s Numbers,” and thank yer lucky stars that there’s a band around that’s still shakin’ after 13 years in action.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Photo Essay / Commentary: Zombie Walk, Saskatoon, September 25, 2016

Zombie Walk, Saskatoon, September 25, 2016
Text and images © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen 2016
Images can be enlarged by clicking on them

If you have ever been to a Zombie Walk, you know they are fun. People dress up like some form of zombie (or zombie hunter) and flock together – often in a park – and then stumble off to some pre-set location. In Saskatoon, they gather near the Vimy Memorial (a gazebo named for an infamous battle in the First World War), and the final goal is to reach the Broadway Theatre (on Broadway Avenue) on the other side of the South Saskatchewan River for the start of the Fantastic Film Festival. Most new and exciting genre releases fill the bill, but this year the opening salvo is original 1968 Night of the Living Dead (free to those costume). Also joining the crowd is a cluster of Lookie Lous and photographers, to which I fall into both categories.

While I don’t dress up, per se, I am a fan of independent horror films, so I wore my official and bright yellow Day of the Dead sweatshirt; it was given out to the cast and crew of the 1985 release, and was subsequently gifted to me by the girlfriend of one said member after she moved into the “ex-“ phase. That was how I represented.

This is the third (see my photos from previous Zombie Walks HERE and HERE) one I have attended, and it was a blast, but there were some major and noticeable differences. For example, this year was a bit more subtle and event than previous ones I have been to, as far as organizational settings go. For example, one year it was sponsored by a group promoting (ironically?) CPR, with the slogan “CPR makes you undead,” who had a tent pitched to teach people how to do it on practice “bodies.” There was also a make-up pavilion. This year, there were no tents whatsoever.

Another is the sheer number of kids attending. There were always families, but the vast majority of attendees had been young adults, with kinder being in the minority; this year, it was about even.

Then there was the level of make-up. There is one theater group that shows up every year in a “theme” (a chain-gang or summer camp counselors, for example); this year they were the Zombini Circus. They always stay in character, even as they pose for pictures, and are always impressive. Not counting them and a few others, the level of make-up was markedly down and, may I say, amateurish. There was some great costumes, don’t get me wrong, but many also just wore torn shirts and whatever red make-up they had laying around to look like blood. Much less effort on many parts (said the man who just wore a sweatshirt and no make-up). Still, there were still pockets of marvelous imagination.

oHoHwdjfpwoijwojWhoww However, what I noticed most prevalent, and I supposed this is hardly surprising as we go deeper into the 21 Century, is the presence of cellphones. Of the 88 photos here, 36 have cell phones in them. I’m beginning to wonder if the cellphone is the new metaphor for the zombie apocalypse, as I actually saw some people stumbling through the park, in costume, because they were looking down at the phone as they moved along. Something to mull.

As a reminder, all photos can be enlarged by clicking on them. Commentary will be in some of the captions.

First arrivals

"I wasn't there unless I'm in the picture!" picnic family

Seemed kind of cool for these two kids to be dressed like this...just sayin'...

Okay, not a participant, but I took it because of the shirt;
one of two Brooklyn shirts I saw there

Manic Panic Zombie?

Perhaps just a full mask, but looked great

Manga zombie

"Play dead! Good zombie!"

Employee of Persephone Theatre, giving out flyers for new upcoming play about zombies!

"I'm just a lonely zombie / Lonely and blu-ue."

"Dooode, I just wanna skate, doooode!"

Impressive, and kept in character the whole time.

Sometimes photographer = timing.

Start 'em when they\re young!

Arrival of the Zombini Circuis

My friend, the zombie

"Well, if that don't beat all!"

Local news coverage

"Get yer body parts while they're still warm!"

"I'm too sexy for my zombie / Too sexy for my zombie..."

I thought, "Hmm, wonder if she knows she's dressed like Patti Smith?"

Brooklyn shirt No. 2

Now this is a scary-ass clown!

"Stop playing with it! Let it scab!"

"Hey kid, how about lunch..."

Awww, zombies in love

I like the headshot makeup.

Event organizer gathers to remind all about the rules of the walk:
such as "don't reach out to the cars in traffic as you cross the bridge."

The walk / stumble begins

Lagging behind...the zombie hunter (great look, kid!).